stories of understanding

 Regina McCombs, Sr. Editor for visual news at MPR

Regina McCombs, Sr. Editor for visual news at MPR

She loved school. Her brother jokes that she spent all of her time with her nose buried in a book. Learning was always a passion. Today, she carries on that passion and seeks to bring others along with her in the process.

Regina McCombs is the Senior Editor for visual news at MPR.


This learning has always been driven by a curiosity and a desire to help people see their world and understand the issues it presents.

Sometimes we need others to show us our world from a different vantage point. We get caught in a mode of tunnel vision, seeing the playing field of life from the drivers’ seat. But perhaps we need to stop the car, move to the passenger seat, and let someone else drive a few miles. We see the world differently in the passengers seat.

This is the backbone of Regina’s work. In our conversation, she talked about how an important part of her job is to create stories that lend a hand to bringing an understanding of the people around us.

We’re so quick to ascribe labels to the thoughts and actions of others, often times people we don’t know.

It’s almost as if we put a stop to seeing others as people like ourselves. So Regina’s work of depicting people as, well, people, is significant. Seeing those we disagree with, as people with valid questions, thoughts, and ideas who struggle with real problems and celebrate great joys, is an art we seem to be losing.

We’ve moved away from believing that people we disagree with may have good, valid reasons for the things that they do or the things that they believe in.
— R.M.

This is where storytelling plays a key role in our society. Regina says that storytelling engages people in a way that enables them to listen. Storytelling, really, is a natural way of learning. We tell our children stories to entertain them but also to teach them. There’s something unique about the way we learn through stories.

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“You can’t get people to care without engaging their emotions. Having an emotional connection [to a particular issue or idea] sets a value on how important it is.” This is her reason for storytelling, especially in a visual fashion. Humans are visual creatures. Generally, people remember images long after they’ll remember anything else.

Storytelling employs creativity. And creativity takes time. Regina says that at MPR, they have a phrase: “value right more than fast.” The newsroom has always been a place of competing deadlines, but once the information is out, it’s an extraordinary task to rein it back in.

With this emphasis on quality she’s driven by the sense that she’s creating something that’s useful to the larger world. Isn’t this what we all strive for?

On the note of creativity and journalism, I get the sense that we speak in terms of either-or. It’s either entertaining poor quality reporting, or an unbiased reporting of the facts and only the facts. I asked Regina about the overlap of creativity and journalism.

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“I have a good friend who teaches design. She says, “to do good design, you have to have parameters, boundaries and limits. You’re most creative within certain boundaries.”

Isn’t this so true. As we explore the world around us, we learn the parameters of our existence and the existence of others. It’s through the emotional engagement of our experiences and the people around us that can teach us the creativity we need to tell our stories. And maybe through telling our story and listening to others’ stories, we can learn a thing or two.